13 Feb 2018

Euthanasia case: Woman told doctor she wasn't suicidal

6:35 pm on 13 February 2018

A woman who killed herself by using an illegally imported sedative had been asked in the past if she was feeling suicidal by her doctor, and told her no.

Trial of Susan Austen at Wellington High Court.

Sarah Austen in the High Court in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Susan Austen is on trial in the High Court in Wellington accused of helping Anne Marie Treadwell commit suicide in 2016 and of importing the drug she used to do it, pentobarbitone, a Class C drug.

Today Mrs Treadwell's former doctor Lorna McCann gave evidence in the trial, and said she'd started treating Mrs Treadwell in 2010.

Her patient had a history of depression going back to 1991, and suffered osteoarthritis which caused chronic pain, and pain in her hip.

Compared to other elderly patients she saw, Dr McCann said Mrs Treadwell was one of her more competent, active patients.

However, in her last consultation with the 77-year-old Mrs Treadwell told her she'd been feeling very tired, and more miserable.

The once active woman had stopped riding her bike after a fall, and was making herself do things so she appeared okay, but just felt awful inside, Dr McCann said.

She increased the amount of anti-depressant Mrs Treadwell was taking.

The woman struck her as someone who did things to help herself feel better, such as exercising.

"She struck me as someone quite good at making positive and healthy decisions for herself."

Twice in the years she treated her, Dr McCann asked her patient if she was feeling suicidal and both times she said no. She had also never raised euthanasia, Dr McCann said.

"Sometimes she came in and said I'm feeling good now, and sometimes would say I'm not feeling so good, I'm more fatigued, I'm feeling empty inside. Those were the times I was more likely to ask about suicide."

A diary entry read out by defence lawyer Donald Stevens suggested Mrs Treadwell had told her doctor she wasn't expecting to see another winter, and was a member of Exit International.

The diary extracts detailed her friendship with Ms Austen, and how she helped her get hold of the pentobarbitone she used to end her life.

In it she talked about how she was frustrated in February 2016, when an order of the sedative didn't arrive as intended.

A few days later she wrote: "The big disapointment has been dealt with and with Suzy's help I'll try again."

In one of her last entries she expressed doubt about her decision, and talked about having butterflies in her stomach when she thought about dying.

"Being human I've still being yo-yoing in my thought about whether my decision is the right decision, I need to remind myself of why I made it - pain loss of competence ... feeling like I am full up to the rim of my life."

She also expressed fears for friends and family she left behind, saying she was truly sorry her death would be a shock for people not expecting it.